August 22

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TRUMAN by Jean Reidy: My New Go-To Book – A Review by Rosanne L. Kurstedt

I read picture books. I write picture books. And I share picture books with students of all ages.

 

I often go to Barnes and Noble or the library and pull handfuls of books off the shelves. After scouring the new releases, I settle in to read. As I open each book, my stomach twitters with excitement. Will this be my new working-with-teachers-and-students book? Will this be my new when-my-own writing is stalled mentor text? Or, will this be my new I-just-need-a-little-lift book?

 

Well, recently I stumbled upon the book TRUMAN by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, and it immediately became my all-of-those-things-mentioned-above book.

 

Set in one day, Truman’s Sarah leaves him alone as she goes off to the first day of school. After waiting and waiting and waiting, Truman (he’s a tortoise, by the way) decides it’s time to find his Sarah. And his journey begins.

 

TRUMAN is the kind of book that can be read in classrooms over and over again. The words Jean Reidy uses to describe Truman, such as proud and brave, pensive and peaceful, will help students name their own feelings and describe themselves, not only on the first day of school but whenever they face a challenge or something “unsettling.”  In addition, Jean Reidy leaves room for the reader to make sense of what’s happening. She leaves room for the reader to stop and think. For example, the only words on one page (a really important page) are, “Just then:”. As readers’ eyes sweep across the page, we see a dandelion on the floor with an exclamation point over it.  What are Truman and the readers to make of that? Jean Reidy trusts us to figure it out.

 

In addition, Lucy Ruth Cummins’ illustrations provide more depth and layers to the story—calling attention to point of view and perspective. The different ways she illustrates the rug, first from a bird’s eye view to show how “endless” it is, and then really close up, from Truman’s perspective, to show how treacherous it looks (safety pins and rocking horses included). Even her use of light adds meaning to the story. I’m so excited to discuss with students the many ways they can learn about crafting their own stories by reading this book, but also the many ways, as illustrated (pun intended), they can view the world. See why it’s my new working-with-teachers-and-students book?

 

TRUMAN, is also the kind of book authors can turn to when their writing is stalled. We can study her word choice—her ability to show not tell. Jean Reidy didn’t write that Sarah was off to her first day of school. She leaves us clues, like Sarah’s sooo big backpack, or that Truman receives two extra green beans today, and that Sarah whispers to him to “be brave.” We have to figure out where Sarah went, just like Truman. Another compelling aspect of the text, when I read like a writer, is how Jean Reidy skillfully gets the readers to route for Truman from the start. In the opening pages we get to know Truman juxtaposed to where he lives. Although he lives in a noisy city, he is not noisy. “He is peaceful and pensive, just like his Sarah.” It’s lines like these, that give the reader a sense of place, as well as personality.  It’s lines like these that remind me to look closely at the lines in my manuscripts to confirm that the words I’ve used match the mood and heart of my story.  See why it’s my new when-my-own writing is stalled mentor text?

 

TRUMAN is also the kind of book I want other people to experience. I’ve been carrying a copy in my bag—sharing it with anyone who will listen. When people finish reading the book, their shoulders are a bit lower, their jaws a bit looser. And a pensive, peaceful, calm overcomes them. See why it’s my new I-just-need-a-little-lift book?

 

TRUMAN is simply a beautiful book that I recommend to teachers, parents, writers, and readers. Basically, everyone.

 

Thank you, Jean and Lucy for bringing Truman into the world and sharing him with us.

 

Rosanne L. Kurstedt, Ph.D. has been an educator for over 20 years. She’s been an elementary school teacher, staff developer, administrator, adjunct professor, literacy coach, curriculum writer, and most importantly an advocate for children and teachers. She is a co-author of Teaching Writing with Picture Books as Models (Scholastic, 2000) and author of the 100+ Growth Mindset Comments series (Newmark Learning, 2019) for grades K-6. She is currently the Associate Director of READ East Harlem/Hunter College and is so excited